"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Wednesday, 23 December 2015



Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being,
and the earth offers a cave to him whom no one can approach.

There has been found the undug well
From which David once longed to drink.

For this, let us hasten to this place where there has been born
A little Child, God before the ages…

-Romanos the Melodist, trans. Ephrem Lash
Pope Francis: Christmas Festivities “a Charade” while World at War
#39 Pope Francis Charade #2

 During a homily that followed the massacre in Paris, Pope Francis said the “whole world is at war”.

His most recent homily was darker still, declaring traditional Christmas festivities a charade during this time of global turmoil:

The pontiff put this holiday season in perspective during mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria last week. His speech comes after a rash of notable violent incidents, including the now infamous terrorist attacks in Paris, as “we are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war.

“It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war,” Pope Francis said. “A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war, piecemeal though that war may be—a little here, a little there—there is no justification.”

The Pope expanded his blame from weapons dealers to weapons makers for the continuing strife:

“You can not serve two masters: either God or riches.’ War is the right choice for him, who would serve wealth: ‘Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests. There is an ugly word the Lord spoke: ‘Cursed!’ Because He said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers!.’ The men who work war, who make war, are cursed, they are criminals. A war can be justified – so to speak – with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war – piecemeal though that war may be – a little here, a little there, and everywhere – there is no justification – and God weeps. Jesus weeps.”

Pope Francis is clearly feeling the stress of being a prime target of ISIS terror operatives, and so the bleak attitude is understandable. Especially in light of the fact that an attack during one of the holiest seasons for Christians is especially tempting for radical Islamic terror organizers.

In fact, British security experts indicate holiday shoppers are likely to be the next target:

A terror expert has warned the festive period makes the iconic landmarks in the UK a “soft target”, with tourists, shoppers and revellers a likely target.

MI5 has warned Britain is facing the highest threat of a terror attack than it has ever experienced, with seven terror attacks foiled in Britain in the last six months alone and nine disrupted overseas in this year alone.

Despite ISIS-video threats against New York City’s famed landmarks, residents are planning to continue with their usual festivities:

Several holiday-themed events opened this week with increased police presence. The annual Union Square Holiday Market opened Thursday, and Urbanspace, the organization that runs the market, said it expects to have just as busy a holiday season as ever.

“We’re going on as usual this year, but obviously we’re cognizant of what’s going on in the world,” said Rachel Van Dolsen, a spokeswoman for Urbanspace. “The holiday market has been in New York for over 20 years, it has integrated itself into the city’s culture, it’s become an institution.”

The Pope is now in Kenya as part of his African tour, which will include masses in that country and Uganda. Despite the butchering of Christians at the hands of radical Islamic terrorists, including 147 university students in Nairobi in April this year, the Holy Father is still traveling through the streets in a simple Honda with windows open.

Should a jihadi sniper decide to take aim, it will not be a gun maker or ammunition dealer that would be responsible for the ensuing tragedy. The free market does not control the choices people make to embrace evil or ignore real world risks to themselves.

Sunday is the start of Advent, and the season will be celebrated with candle lighting and prayers in Catholic homes around the world…including mine. I will be enjoying these festivities all the more, because the continued chaos makes me more deeply appreciate the many blessings I have (including a being Legal Insurrection author).

I will also be saying prayers for Pope Francis, that he remains safe and learns to embrace the fact that an economic system is not our enemy.

That last prayer may require a miracle to fulfill.

Posted by Leslie Eastman   Friday, November 27, 2015 at 8:00pm
Now he is targeting weapons makers for global strife

St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, and the Nativity: An Interview with Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev)

Archimandrite Anthony (Kapustin) demonstrated that the ancient hagiographers had allowed the interweaving of two lives: Nicholas of Myra and Nichols of Sion. It all began when, in the middle of the tenth century, someone decided to “supplement” the official life of Nicholas of Myra in Lycia written by the Greek monk Michael the Archimandrite. These two Nicholases merged into one venerated image in popular representation and later in ecclesiastical memory.

In December 2010 an interview with Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) conducted by Ivan Semenov on the subject of St. Nicholas was broadcast on the program “Church and World” on the “Russia 24” station. We offer below a translation of the transcript of the program.

Metropolitan Hilarion: On December 19 the memory of one of the most venerated saints, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, is celebrated.

Ivan Semenov: Vladyka, St. Nicholas is often referred to outside of Russia as a Russian saint. Russian Orthodox people consider him a special patron saint of Russia and pray especially to him. Nonetheless, St. Nicholas not only was never in Russia, but Russia as such did not exist in his time. How so?

Metropolitan Hilarion: St. Nicholas was the bishop of the city of Myra in Lycia (today this city is called Demre and is located in Turkey) and lived in the fourth century. Surprisingly little historical information has been preserved about him. But it is striking that this saint has been so venerated by the Church over the course of the centuries that in Russia, for example, he became the most venerated saint. There were more churches dedicated to St. Nicholas than anywhere else. It would happen that in a city with, say, forty churches, twenty of them would be dedicated to St. Nicholas. This is due to the special veneration of St. Nicholas in Russia and in ancient Rus’. This veneration came about for no other reason than that St. Nicholas played some sort of very significant role in the lives and spiritual experiences of hundreds, thousands, and millions of people. That is, people prayed to him and received an answer to these prayers. People addressed him for help, and miracles were performed. It is known, for instance, that St. Nicholas helped many people in distress at sea. He is traditionally seen as the patron saint of sailors. He generally helps people who are travelling. This is the experience not only of people in ancient times, but of modern people as well. Go into any Orthodox parish and ask people who have come to the service: how has St. Nicholas helped you and why is he so dear to you? And nearly everyone will likely relate some story from his or her life connected with the help and heavenly intercession of St. Nicholas. There are many such stories.

Ivan Semenov: Vladyka, our viewers might be surprised that, as you have mentioned, little historical evidence exists. In the West doubt has even arisen about the historicity of the figure of St. Nicholas. At the same time, contemporary historians have found confirmation of his existence, and even of his life, and we have a short report on this.

Narrator: The following fact was established already a century and a half ago. Archimandrite Anthony (Kapustin) demonstrated that the ancient hagiographers had allowed the interweaving of two lives: Nicholas of Myra and Nichols of Sion. It all began when, in the middle of the tenth century, someone decided to “supplement” the official life of Nicholas of Myra in Lycia written by the Greek monk Michael the Archimandrite. These two Nicholases merged into one venerated image in popular representation and later in ecclesiastical memory.

Andrei Vinogradov, researcher at the Institute of World History at the Russian Academy of Science: “For a long time it was unclear how these two texts had been combined. So far I have not succeeded in finding a text in the State Historical Museum in which these pieces have been directly inserted into the material of Michael the Archimandrite. Then each copied this enriched text in his own way.”

Narrator: St. Nicholas the Bishop of Pinara and Archimandrite of Sion lived in the sixth century. Theophan and Nonna, mentioned in the lives of Nicholas the God-pleaser, were the names of the former’s parents. It was namely Nicholas of Sion who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. To researches, such as the Europeans Gustav Anrich, Nancy Shevchenko, and Gerardo Choffari, these are indisputable facts. Nonetheless, episodes from the life of Nicholas of Sion are still published in the lives of Nicholas the God-pleaser. These can be seen in icons of the saint: the baby standing in the baptismal font, the miracle of the cypresses, and the healing of Nonna. As for succession through the ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, Nicholas of Sion was a reader, deacon, and priest, whereas Nicholas of Myra in Lycia became a bishop immediately.

Andrei Vinogradov: “He lived in his hometown of Patara as a layman and distributed money to the poor. Then by command of God he went to the city of Myra, where at that very moment he was chosen as bishop. He was the first person to enter the church. One of the bishops had had a vision that the first to enter the church was to become bishop.”

Narrator: The high forehead, eagle nose, round gray beard, and height of five and a half feet – the appearance of St. Nicholas on icons is close to his actual appearance established by anthropologists. The older the icon the more reliable it is. The anthropologists who studied the saint’s relics found confirmation of facts from his life: the person whose remains are preserved in Italy ate only vegetarian food and lived for many years in the cold and damp – Nicholas the God-pleaser spent eight years in prison. The relics preserved in Bari were studied in the 1950s. In 1987 anthropologists opened the tomb in Venice and discovered that precisely the relics lacking in Apulia are preserved there.

Andrei Vinogradov: “The people from Bari stole the relics at night. They were not able to take the smallest bones. It was these that the Venetians later took. In this way, more than four-fifths of the body has been preserved and are located in Bari and Venice.”

Narrator: Another fifth of the authentic relics are scattered throughout the world. There are too many outside of Italy for all of them to be authentic. In the future DNA analysis may help stop the spread of false relics around the world. But the next goal of scholars of St. Nicholas is to discover exactly where the saint was buried in Myra in Lycia.

Andrei Vinogradov: “There are three major versions. The Russian Church erected a monument where it considered it necessary. There are alternative versions: some people base themselves on the remnants of coffins located in the church; this is the most venerated place in the church. It may be that archeological excavations will clarify this issue.”

Narrator: But whatever discoveries scholars make, new facts from the life of the Wonderworker can only supplement his earthly image. The main thing is that faith in his miraculous intercession has continued for seventeen consecutive centuries.

Ivan Semenov: Vladyka, the Catholic Church has begun to doubt the historicity of the saint because of the opinion that two separate historical figures were conflated in his life. How does the Russian Orthodox Church view such research? Generally speaking, can such historical research influence the hagiographical literature and the Church’s attitude to its saints?

Metropolitan Hilarion: I would say this in response: every saint lives, as it were, three lives. The first was the real life that he led on earth in a given historical period of time. Sometimes we know a great deal about this life, and sometimes we know very little. Another life of the saint is his hagiography. It is good if people who knew him, who could relate the real details of his life in this hagiography, wrote this.

Very often a life is written many centuries later and then, in fact, the life is written like an icon. That is, the life is not a verbal portrait, but rather a verbal icon of the saint. Very often the life might consist of certain stories that are common for several saints that migrate from one life to another. Therefore one should not treat these lives as entirely reliable historical sources. In just the same way we do not look at an icon as a human portrait. An icon is a certain verbal, symbolic image.

The third life of a saint is his life as experienced by those people who address him in prayer over the course of centuries. This is a very real life of the saint that we can feel through our experience. Therefore, when we are told that a saint such as St. Nicholas never existed, but we know that precisely this person, precisely this saint, has helped us many times in life – then the conversation about whether he might not have existed is for us entirely baseless. The Church’s experience is no less important than any historical or archeological evidence.

Ivan Semenov: Yes, certainly anyone who has at least some spiritual experience will value this as more important than anything else.

Metropolitan Hilarion: You know, during the Soviet era we were taught that Jesus Christ never actually existed. Meanwhile, thousands and millions of people come to Christ not as some kind of ghost or phantom, but encounter the real live person of Christ; they commune with Him in prayer; they, if you will, know Him personally. They know Him by personal experience, they meet with Him, and they commune with Him. Their communion with Christ may be the very essence of their lives. One may say the same thing about the saints. Historical evidence may be more or less reliable. There are also lives of saints written by their disciples. Then this life is, in fact, a biography.

Ivan Semenov: A biography.

Metropolitan Hilarion: A biography. But it also happens, as I said earlier, that lives are written many centuries later according to certain templates or canons, just as icons are painted. And in this case, of course, one should not expect factual reliability.

Ivan Semenov: Vladyka, to return to the figure of St. Nicholas, I’d say that there could be a fourth life, if you named three. There is also the image of Santa Claus, which is not an icon but rather a sort of picture of him. This image has been extremely commercialized in the West. Vladyka, how do you view Santa Claus? Is this a blasphemous caricature, or does something remain from faith, prayer, and the image of St. Nicholas?

Metropolitan Hilarion: Very much has been commercialized in modern Western society. Very much of that which should have a pronounced Christian meaning is essentially devoid of it – for instance, the feast of Nativity. Today not everyone in the West knows that the Nativity refers to the Nativity of Christ. The Nativity is associated with vacations, breaks, skiing, family holidays, and with the opportunity to invite relatives over or to go to visit them.

Ivan Semenov: Unfortunately, in the majority of Western languages there is no meaning relating to a birth in the word “Nativity.” The word “Christmas” does not include the idea of someone being born.

Metropolitan Hilarion: But all the same it points to Christ. Nonetheless, often this Western, commercialized, secularized Nativity is entirely devoid of any Christian component. The same thing happened with St. Nicholas. After all, this is one of those saints that is loved not only by adults, but also especially by children. So the tradition developed that St. Nicholas gives children presents on New Year’s Day. Gradually this Christian component, this understanding that St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop and ascetic, disappeared and one was left with the figure of this Santa Claus, who is no different from our own Uncle Frost.

Ivan Semenov: In this regard, our viewers ask: “Should we have children believe that in Russia there is no such thing as Santa Claus, that instead we have Uncle Frost? What do you think?”

Metropolitan Hilarion: Well, it seems to me that there should always be some element of fairy tales in childhood. If children grow up only on such programs as Time or even Church and World, then they will be deprived of an essential component of a truly human upbringing. Fairy tales are an essential part of childhood. Therefore the element of fantasy should always be preserved, and with age people will understand perfectly well which characters are real and which are fantasy.

Ivan Semenov: Some Orthodox people (as a rule, new converts) fear that we will confuse children by having them believe in Uncle Frost, who isn’t real, while believing in that which the Church believes, which is real.

Metropolitan Hilarion: You know, even adults can become confused. It’s well known that there existed in ancient Rus’, and exist now, two feasts: the “winter Nicholas” and the “summer Nicholas.” The “winter Nicholas” is celebrated on December 19, and the “summer Nicholas” is celebrated in May. So when St. Nicholas is depicted wearing a miter, people say: this is the “winter Nicholas” and when he is not wearing one he is the “summer Nicholas.” But these are folk ideas. So why should we be concerned if children have certain ideas that will pass with time?

Ivan Semenov: Our viewer Pauline asks the following question about St. Nicholas: “In what cases should one pray to this saint? When can he be of more help to others?”

Metropolitan Hilarion: I think that one can pray to St. Nicholas in all cases. I, at any rate, have often turned to him in various situations and received help. I can cite a simple example. My priestly ministry began in very poor areas of Lithuania, where I had four parishes that were not connected by any means of public transportation. Of course, then I had neither my own car nor even my own horse and cart in order to travel. In order to make it from one parish to another to perform the Liturgy, I had to travel seventy kilometers [43.5 miles] either by foot or by hitchhiking. It would happen that I’d be walking and walking – and one car would go by, then a second, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, with no one stopping. Then I would begin to pray to St. Nicholas, and some car would be sure to stop. Of course, one could say that this was all a coincidence. But this happened so often, and in so many different situations, that I could never claim to anyone that this was all just a coincidence. But there have been other cases when St. Nicholas really saved people from danger, or even from death.

Ivan Semenov: Vladyka, there is another miracle about which a film was recently made in Russia. This concerns the so-called “Zoe’s standing,” when a girl blasphemously invited an icon of St. Nicholas to dancer with her, and then stood frozen with this icon for many days. Can this also be considered a miracle of St. Nicholas?

Metropolitan Hilarion: I would say that the miracles of St. Nicholas are normally very kind and luminous. St. Nicholas, as a rule, saves people from harm and death, and helps them in everyday affairs. Here, of course, was something entirely different. It seems that the Lord, or perhaps St. Nicholas himself, wanted to instruct and remind people that, despite their atheistic upbringing, one should treat holy things respectfully and without blasphemy. This, apparently, should apply not only to believers, but to non-believers as well. We know that such miracles took place, but they of course were suppressed and not recorded. But now certain of these miracles are coming to light.

Dear brothers and sisters, our program dedicated to St. Nicholas is coming to an end. In conclusion, I would like to remind you of the words of St. Paul from the Epistle to the Hebrews: Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good deeds [10:24]. I wish you all the best. May the Lord keep you all!


Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11). The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for God. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the “God hypothesis” becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so “full” of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger. By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul’s exhortation: “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality. Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you – the angels’ hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” God is glorious. God is pure light, the radiance of truth and love. He is good. He is true goodness, goodness par excellence. The angels surrounding him begin by simply proclaiming the joy of seeing God’s glory. Their song radiates the joy that fills them. In their words, it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven. There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendour of God’s truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good, and he is the supreme power above all powers. All this should simply make us joyful tonight, together with the angels and the shepherds.

Linked to God’s glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either. Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone. Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God’s cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace. If God’s light is extinguished, man’s divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God’s image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century. Only if God’s light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is “Emmanuel”, God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

So Christ is our peace, and he proclaimed peace to those far away and to those near at hand (cf. Eph 2:14, 17). How could we now do other than pray to him: Yes, Lord, proclaim peace today to us too, whether we are far away or near at hand. Grant also to us today that swords may be turned into ploughshares (Is 2:4), that instead of weapons for warfare, practical aid may be given to the suffering. Enlighten those who think they have to practise violence in your name, so that they may see the senselessness of violence and learn to recognize your true face. Help us to become people “with whom you are pleased” – people according to your image and thus people of peace.

Once the angels departed, the shepherds said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened for us (cf. Lk 2:15). The shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem, the Evangelist tells us (cf. 2:16). A holy curiosity impelled them to see this child in a manger, who the angel had said was the Saviour, Christ the Lord. The great joy of which the angel spoke had touched their hearts and given them wings.

Let us go over to Bethlehem, says the Church’s liturgy to us today. Trans-eamus is what the Latin Bible says: let us go “across”, daring to step beyond, to make the “transition” by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life, across the purely material world into the real one, across to the God who in his turn has come across to us. Let us ask the Lord to grant that we may overcome our limits, our world, to help us to encounter him, especially at the moment when he places himself into our hands and into our heart in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us go over to Bethlehem: as we say these words to one another, along with the shepherds, we should not only think of the great “crossing over” to the living God, but also of the actual town of Bethlehem and all those places where the Lord lived, ministered and suffered. Let us pray at this time for the people who live and suffer there today. Let us pray that there may be peace in that land. Let us pray that Israelis and Palestinians may be able to live their lives in the peace of the one God and in freedom. Let us also pray for the countries of the region, for Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and their neighbours: that there may be peace there, that Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there, that Christians and Muslims may build up their countries side by side in God’s peace.

The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Christmas Eve 2015
“Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.” We have come tonight to hear that message once again and to be filled with great joy. The birth of Jesus, the Messiah, takes all our fears away, gives us hope and reason to rejoice. Even so, for many, this Christmas it must be difficult to rejoice let alone have hope.

            Our thoughts and prayers are with the many families in this country whose homes and livelihoods been devastated once more by heavy rain and severe flooding. For the past three years, our attention has been drawn to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian children living in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey and the millions of refugees, displaced by war, searching for a new life and somewhere to live, many of them children. Why do innocent children always have to suffer the outrages of war and why do men make children suffer?

            There can be no excuse for the suffering inflicted on the weak and vulnerable by the great and powerful, or by those who are made powerful by the possession of guns and bombs. We know that there are no easy solutions to conflict, terrorism and war, but the suffering of children is a crime that cries to heaven for vengeance. What joy or hope can there be for those who are hungry and homeless, for the innocent who know nothing but violence and pain? The birth of the Son of God in a stable at Bethlehem and laid to sleep in swaddling bands in a manger, where cattle eat, is a sign of God’s solidarity with the poor and those who suffer, above all a sign of his love for children and for all who are young and innocent. What also saddens us today is the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the disappearance of Christianity from its very cradle.

Jesus wasn’t born in a palace or a temple; the Messiah didn’t come into this world in a rich home or a luxury hotel. No, his companions were animals: the ox and the ass, sheep, mice and fleas. His mother Mary was a young village girl, a peasant, and the man people presumed to be his father, Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth. They were surprised and confused at the strange events surrounding his conception and birth and now here he was, cradled in a manger, the baby whom they were to call Jesus, meaning Saviour.

            No sooner was he born than angels appeared to shepherds, watching over their flocks by night, to tell them of his birth. “Today, in the city of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.” With the angels there appears a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men who enjoy his favour.” That new-born babe is God, God who created everything, yet he comes to share our weakness and fragility, our suffering and pain. He is the Messiah, the Saviour, but God’s way of saving is not ours. It is not through pride that he saves us but through humility, bringing life through death and redemption through suffering. This child in the manger is born to die and, through his death, he will reconcile the whole of creation with God. In Christ, all suffering is redemptive, all pain has purpose and meaning, and even little children can share in God’s work of salvation, because God now shares fully in their suffering and pain.

            May the joy of Christmas be yours and may the child lying in the manger help us to understand and value the suffering and death of innocent children in the world today. Now Christ’s birth doesn’t mean that their suffering is fine, that it doesn’t matter and we needn’t do anything about it. Quite the opposite: it is wrong, it is unjust, it should not happen, it must be stopped, but as long as that suffering and pain last, we know that Christ is still being born today and in still lying there, crying in the manger. Where children suffer, Jesus is there with them.

            On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I wish you and all your loved ones a happy Christmas. “Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.”


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